For many businesses, an economic downturn can prompt a few rounds of budgetary soul-searching. Expenditures on advertising and marketing are often among the first to go, as companies scramble to make the numbers work. This despite reams of advice suggesting that's the worst time to cut back on letting prospective customers know what your business does.
Stacey Harrison, founder and CEO of Heart & Hustle Brands, a Tampa-based advertising, branding and marketing company that works with many health care and professional services clients, says it’s understandable businesses would want to tighten their proverbial belts, but there are ways to “recession proof” marketing strategies.
“Some of my clients,” she says, “are thinking, ‘how do we make sure that we’re properly using our marketing budget, not necessarily just stopping it altogether, but using it more wisely?’ We give them advice on what to start doing, what to stop doing and what to keep doing to manage their budget and make sure they’re continually bringing in the right leads and attracting the right clientele.”
The Business Observer asked Harrison, 44, for more specific tips about how to effectively advertise and hande marketing during a recession.
Do you think we’re at a point, given all the recent economic uncertainty, that companies are going to start cutting back on advertising and marketing?
It’s like with any consumer, when you think about if the economy is going to change, you want to make sure you’re spending your money wisely, just in case things get worse. So, yes, I do see that on the horizon — cutting back on things that maybe don’t make sense, like experimental tactics, whether that’s paid search [targeting new] audiences, or display advertising, or even TV. I think there are certain avenues that don’t make sense when you could potentially be heading into a recession and don’t know what’s to come.
Does cutting back on advertising, marketing and other customer outreach have the potential to backfire?
Definitely. You still want to continue to reach out to your audience, even if it’s your current customers, whether it’s creating blogs or reaching out via email lists that you already have, you want to stay in front of your clients, especially the loyal ones, because those are the ones who are going to stay with you. Just like any relationship, if you abandon that [communication], they’re going to forget about you.
What are some cost-effective ways to continue to reach customers?
With organic social media and email marketing — again, using the list you already have — you can provide value to clients, such as advice or tips that can help them during a stressful or tough time like a recession, making sure you’re giving them valuable content. If you have a consumer-facing business, you want to make sure you’re staying on top of your reviews and continuing to ask for reviews. You want to manage them and monitor them in case things get negative, because once things start to look up again, people will be looking back on those reviews, and that could bite you in the butt in the long term. And focus on referrals. If you know where your clients come from, reach out and let them know how much you would appreciate a referral.
If a company absolutely has to make major cuts to its marketing budget, what are some ways to do that without doing long-term damage to its brand?
Cut back on anything you don’t see a return on investment from, anything that isn’t bringing in quality leads, like TV — you can buy a number of impressions but they don’t guarantee any kind of ROI; stay away from that. And events — purchasing a table at a charity event might not make sense. Instead, donate to that group or volunteer so you’re giving back but you’re not necessarily having to pay out of pocket as much.
How should a company adjust its internal marketing and messaging — to employees, suppliers, etc. — in a difficult economic environment?
Your employees are going to be worried, so show them appreciation and thank them for the work they’re doing. It doesn’t have to be anything expensive, like a huge bonus, but buy lunch occasionally, allow them to go home a little early on a Friday or show appreciation during a meeting or in front of a client. Little gifts, whether it’s a cup of coffee or lunch, go a long way with your employees — they show you care and that you don’t expect them to just continue to grind away through a tough time.